The Baybayin scripts in our government seals

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The Baybayin Act of 2013 calls for the use of the writing system in the official logos of every government agency, department, and office.

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — For a postcolonial country such as the Philippines, the search for its citizens’ collective identity is often complex and full of ambiguities. Centuries of adaptation and assimilation, which remain prevalent to this day, have left Filipinos struggling to distinguish where influence ends and identity begins. However, larger and larger steps are being taken toward nationalism in order to embrace who we are and what we have. We’ve begun to cling to our traditions and our heritage, to keep them alive and to gain a better understanding on what being Filipino means.

This is true especially for the youth, who, more than ever, have been supporting local music, literature, art, fashion, and cinema — pagtangkilik, as we say in Filipino. Creative writing in our native languages has become more common, and more popular as well. It’s not difficult to see, then, how something like the Baybayin keyboard, an app that enables users to type characters from the ancient alpha-syllabic writing system, could gain widespread use, and how it could lead to a surge of interest in the indigenous script itself.

Twitter users spelled out their display names in Baybayin. They posted graphics and art featuring the script, including what it would look like when applied to logos of fast food chains. They bemoaned its discontinued use upon the arrival of Spanish colonizers and the subsequent introduction of alphabetic writing, and called for its reinstatement as an official script for common practice.

Baybayin Logos - 1.jpg From left: The logo for the National Historical Commission of the Philippines includes “Ka” and “Pi,” which stand for Kasaysayan ng Pilipinas; the previous logo of Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino features the symbols for “Ka,” “Wa,” and “Pa” to represent its initials; the Records Management and Archives Office of the National Archive features the Calatagan pot, the oldest Philippine cultural artifact to depict pre-Hispanic writing.

While the keyboard and exposure led many to appreciate Baybayin and study it for themselves, others were quick to point out that it was not ideal to use it simply for aesthetic purposes. It was argued that because of its syllabic structure, it cannot just be applied to non-native words, nor can it be used the way the alphabet is used. Intentions to celebrate tradition aside, the writing system appears to have been reduced to no more than a fad or a hobby.

Still, despite Baybayin’s distinction as an obsolete script, it continues to surround us in more ways than we realize. For instance, it remains in use today among indigenous communities in Mindoro and Palawan, and the word “Pilipino” is written in Baybayin on the lower right corner of the redesigned peso bills. There are also draft laws aiming to keep its spirit alive in our culture: The National Script Act of 2011, which calls for the protection and conservation of Baybayin as the national script of the Philippines, and the Baybayin Act of 2013, which calls for the use of the writing system in the official logos of every government agency, department, and office.

The author of the latter, Sen. Loren Legarda, notes that a number of government offices already feature Baybayin in their logos. The National Museum’s logo, for example, is the symbol for “Pa,” the first syllable of pamana, which stands for the country’s heritage, while the logo for the Cultural Center of the Philippines, based on a Katipunan design and derived from the symbol for “Ka,” represents Katotohanan, Kagandahan, at Kabutihan. It’s no surprise that the Baybayin featured on the National Library’s logo would spell out an actual word: Ka-Du-Nu-Nga-N(a), or knowledge.

A few government agencies have seals that include Baybayin, as well. The previous logo of the Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino features the symbols for “Ka,” “Wa,” and “Pa” to represent its initials. The logo for the National Historical Commission of the Philippines, on the other hand, includes “Ka” and “Pi,” which stand for Kasaysayan ng Pilipinas. The National Commission for Culture and the Arts seal, made to look like fire to represent the Flame of Imagination, features a stylized “Ka” symbol that stands for kadakilaan.

Baybayin Logos - 2.jpg From left: The logo for the Cultural Center of the Philippines, based on a Katipunan design and derived from the symbol for “Ka,” represents Katotohanan, Kagandahan at Kabutihan; the National Commission for Culture and the Arts seal features a stylized “Ka” symbol that stands for kadakilaan; the National Museum’s logo is the symbol for “Pa,” the first syllable of pamana.

Finally, the logo for the Records Management and Archives Office of the National Archive features the Calatagan pot — the oldest Philippine cultural artifact to depict pre-Hispanic writing — prominently, and on it you can see the characters for “Da,” “Ki,” “Na,” “Ngu,” “Da,” and “Ka.”

It’s worth mentioning that all offices and agencies mentioned have good reason to include Baybayin in their logos, because of their ties to culture, history, tradition, literature, language, and artifacts. Thus, the use of Baybayin is not only warranted, it is also reverential and meaningful.

While it is  important to keep Baybayin alive and recognize it as an integral part of our culture, we must consider the practical reasons that would allow or prevent it to become as widely used as it once was, such as the existence of several types of Baybayin across Luzon and Visayas. We need to give it the respect, effort, and time it deserves before attempting to reintroduce it into the Philippine vernacular. Within the right context and a proper venue, Baybayin can be a powerful representation of our being Filipino.

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A previous version of this article depicted the new logo of the Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino, which does not have Baybayin characters. It is the old logo which featured Baybayin characters. The images have been changed accordingly, along with a minor change to the text. CNN Philippines Life apologizes for this error.